Peer pressure is pressure exerted upon someone (or some entity) by their (or its) peers. It is most visible in (but definitely not limited to !) groups of young people, and it is the driving force behind popular culture.

It can be overt or insidious, and both forms effect anyone who interacts with others at all times they are doing so. It can be on any type of scale and is seen in the way that huge corporations exploit it for their own benefit, and in school classrooms where social rank is ordered by the clothes students wear and the way they talk.

It is also broadcast in music, in television and in film, extending the Westernisation (Americanisation?) of large groups of young people and giving them an ironic sense of nonconformity. It is the driving force behind pop culture and great evidence of this are the meaningless fads and icons produced by the industry that are eaten up by the adoring public.

What is “peer pressure”? What does it mean to you?

To me, peer pressure means “your friends trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do”. It means “persisting and not giving up”. It means “ultimately you have to make a choice: your friends or your health”.

Most people, when they hear “peer pressure”, think it means “they want you to take drugs, or smoke, or drink”. I must admit I am guilty of thinking that way most of the time. In reality, though, it can mean many, many more things, like performing a death defying stunt or telling them a very, very private secret.

Who are the peers? Mostly, they’re your friends, but also your enemies and other people you’re associated with. It is virtually anybody you know well and see regularly.

Who are the victims? Stereotypically, they are teenagers and young adults in their early twenties. Most people believe it’s only semi-mature people. I disagree. It can happen at younger or older ages. Even when I was in my later primary school years, my peers were trying to convince me that drinking alcohol would make me “cool”.

How do people become victims? Many ways: your friends could have tried something and wanted you to have a go, they may have done a certain thing more times than you, they may want you to be a guinea pig in an experiment of theirs. Whatever the reason, the end result is usually nasty.

How can you stop it? Isolate the people that are most likely to “attack” you. If you can steer clear of some of their activities, you should steer clear of peer pressure in general. If you still get caught up, or feel as though you might, start learning to say “no” more and more confidently to more and more people.

Peer pressure is not nice, but, thankfully, it is not what you’d call “common”. It can be, has been, and will be, stopped. So, what does it mean to you?

Many years ago, I joined this site and frantically searching for things to write about, wrote a short entry on Mobb Deep, a hip-hop group that had been, and has still been, neglected by the intelligentsia. Its still a pretty good writeup, since Mobb Deep has done nothing of note since 2001. Eight years before that, Mobb Deep's first album came out. Years before they were super-powered gangsters involved in international intrigue (and even that was over a decade ago!), they were just two teenagers who were lucky enough to get a chance to work with some great producers, such as DJ Premier and Large Professor. Mostly because that was before DJ Premier charged $30,000 for a track.

One of those songs was "Peer Pressure", one of the few songs that I would point out as fulfilling Chuck D's words as rap as a "black person's CNN". The song deals with the problem of youth and crime in a straightforward manner, neither glorifying or villainizing it. After all, as the song states:

Around my way there's a kid that most don't understand
how he lives isn't negative or positive
He has a grade A average
But when he's on the streets with his friends, he's a savage
Looking back on the song from Mobb Deep's later career, it is good to know that they could admit that criminality wasn't the theatrical spectacle they later made it out to be, but merely a matter of kids being confused.

The song's final verse tells the story of that youth, and how he finally resorts to suicide. I don't know if the story is truth, fiction, or a mixture of the two, but it is presented succintly, and emotionally without being overwrought. But it is in an earlier verse, when the way the pressure is subtly applied is described, that I think the song is strongest:

Like in junior high, I used to wonder why
Certain females went out with certain guys
Then one day, it all dawned on me yo
You gotta be down, and have it going on see
... Buying new gear, nothing but the best
Forget Levis strictly Polo and Guess
But how would I make the cash
It gotta be easy and it gotta be fast
This again is succinct and easy to understand: acts seen as antisocial by outsiders are actually performed under social pressure. If Mobb Deep had continued writing insightful, yet street level songs like this throughout the 1990s, we would be living in a socialist utopia by now. But unfortunately, they made a bunch of garbage, and the misled youth were left to wander in the wilderness.

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